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Berkeley students express themselves through film

By Hank Sims, Daily Planet Staff
Monday October 22, 2001

UC freshmen corrupted by drugged-out Berkeleyans? Suburban youth, high on BART, attempting to sneak into a San Francisco peep show? Too-enthusiastic volleyball players spiking people on the street?  

All this and more was on display at the Third Berkeley High/Bay Area Film Festival, a student-organized exhibition of the works of young Bay Area filmmakers, which aired at the Pacific Film Archive Saturday afternoon. 

Students from Berkeley, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and San Leandro were on hand to show their films — which ranged from commercials and public service announcements to documentaries, from thrillers to comedies to art films — and to discuss how and why they were made. 

Two of the films, both by BHS students, offered different takes on the subject of teen violence. 

“Hot Boxing: Berkeley High Fight Clubs,” by Nick Smith, Kamal Young and Gavin Wagner, told of a phenomenon few in the audience knew existed — “fight clubs,” inspired partly by the movie of the same name, that meet after school hours for informal boxing matches. 

Small parts of several battles, in various and indiscernible locations, are shown; the combatants wear gloves and flail at each other — mostly ineptly, though the occasional shot to the chin does land.  

Interspersed with the fight scenes are interviews with combatants and spectators, and one unnamed BHS official who explains that because it was considered too dangerous, it was removed from the physical education curriculum some time ago. 

Most of the students interviewed in the film agree that some young men are drawn toward physical violence, and that the “fight club” is a relatively safe way to practice it. 

In “Clairvoyance,” by Zack Sultan and Daniel Sanders, a teenager walks down Shattuck Avenue, occasionally bumping against other young men. When they make contact, the frame freezes and the teenager, a clairvoyant, sees an episode of violence in his counterpart’s recent past. One of the young men was held up by two men carrying baseball bats, another was punched by his friend after a game of one-on-one got out of hand. 

The story is told almost completely through music and pictures. Flashback episodes are done partly in live action and partly with still photographs, which catch the emotional pain of the victims, and sometimes the perpetrators, of violence. 

Other films were somewhat more lighthearted. 

“Orange Shoes,” a short film by BHS student Calvin Gaskin — one of the curators of the festival — is an exploration of the roots and meanings of his fellow students’ choices of clothing.  

The subjects in the stylized documentary range from a full-on fashion diva, whose elaborate costumes draw positive and negative attention from her peers in equal measure, to a young man who buys all his clothes from Costco, because it’s the only place you can get “10 white T-shirts for six bucks.” 

One clothes horse says that he refuses to wear Armani — “not because it’s too expensive, but because it’s too bourgie (short for bourgeoisie).” 

“I wanted to express all the different styles and stuff you see at Berkeley High,” said Gaskin. 

Two other films by Berkeley High students were shown — “Gay Youth,” a documentary by Vanessa Duran, and “Beat It,” an anti-smoking public service announcement by Viki Rasmussen. 

After the films, the filmmakers took questions from the audience. One man said that when Berkeley High first started giving classes in video production, many teachers feared that the option to study video would take away from reading and writing programs. He asked the students whether they thought that was true. 

Imperial DeCastro, a Pittsburgh High School student whose public service announcement about teen suicide was a crowd favorite, said that pictures and sound, used in addition to good writing, enabled filmmakers to create moods that connect more deeply with an audience.  

“My film wouldn’t have been as powerful if it was just a written warning,” she said. “Video gives you the ability to get the message across much better.” 

Many of the students expressed an interest in pursuing a career in film or video. Stephen Reedy of California High, whose film, “Midnight in a Perfect World,” was one of the more visually interesting of the festival, said he was grateful for the chance to develop his skills at school. 

“It’s good, as young filmmakers, to develop your style before messing it up with substance,” he said.